Today, Sony announces its next console, the PlayStation 4, or Orbis, or what have you. The next Xbox is likely to appear at E3. Which means we are now in a game of chicken: Who will bring their console to market first?
The answer should be both companies. Microsoft and Sony need to go head-to-head, and this is why.
A Short Term Sales Advantage Isn’t Permanent Momentum, But A Shock To The Loser
Ask any early adopter; getting an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3 in the early going was not the most fun in the world, because you were taken for granted. Sony in particular was possessed of some profound arrogance, putting out a console at a sales-killing $600.
After all, they were the leaders! Nintendo had some ridiculous tiny console with a name that sounded like pee. This was a two-man contest.
Then the Wii rammed an almighty boot up the ass of both parties, and things changed in a hurry. Long term, opening day sales are nothing more than a PR boost. Short term, it can galvanize somewhat complacent companies, and both Sony and Microsoft are complacent for reasons we’ll get to, to act, to be creative. Or at least to put out better games.
It’ll Emphasize Any Bad Ideas Right Out Of The Gate
The next Xbox supposedly won’t be playing used games, and will require an always-on Internet connection. The PS4 has been rumored to have anti-used technology, but those rumors have been vague and when the guy in charge of things in the US says he thinks it’s a bad idea, well, that’s pretty much all the word you need on the topic.
And we’re sure the PS4 has equally bad or silly ideas. But console makers tend to cling to stupid ideas beyond all common sense; witness Sony still trying to cling to the Move, for example. They need to have a short, sharp shock to shake them out of it, and losing sales to a competitor is the sharpest out of all of them.
It Will Also Bolster Good Ideas
Similarly, if something is a good idea, and it makes money, that tends to encourage a company to keep doing it. Both consoles are likely to have their good points, but those can get buried: The PlayStation 3 was a good machine that got a mudslide of bad press (remember “…FOR MASSIVE DAMAGE!”?) Making gamers choose will make them think about what they want in a machine.
It Will Trigger An Indie Arms Race
While all of the big console companies are realizing that indie games are going to be central to their future, and having good but cheap games to download are a key feature, none of them have really torn down the wall between the PC scene and consoles yet. Needing good games, and constantly needing more of them, will drive both companies to indie developers, pumping more money into the scene and getting more indie developers out there.
It Will Prepare Them For The Much Tougher Fight Ahead
This June, a Ouya will be showing up on many doorsteps. And many PC manufacturers have made it clear that as the desktop and laptop market collapses, set-top boxes and gaming PCs suited to the living room will be where they head to keep up their profit margins. And this is before you factor in all the video streaming boxes, smart TVs, and the fact that tablets, every year, become more powerful.
Console manufacturers have a tough fight ahead of them, but you wouldn’t know it to see them talk. Getting into a fight with each other now will toughen them up for the much harder fight to stay relevant coming, and sooner than they think.